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Japan blanks China to open WBC with win

JAPAN began the defense of its title with a 4-0 win over China in yesterday's opening game of the World Baseball Classic.

Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki went hitless in five at-bats but Shuichi Murata hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the third inning to spark Japan's offense.

Japan is in Pool A of the 16-nation tournament with Olympic gold medalist South Korea, China and Chinese Taipei providing the opposition.

The top two teams advance to the second round, which will be played in the United States along with the final on March 23 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

Playing before a near-capacity crowd of 43,428 at Tokyo Dome, Japan took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third. Hiroyuki Nakajima scored from second on a single to center field by Norichika Aoki for Japan's first run.

Murata then connected for a two-run homer to left field off China starting pitcher Li Chenhao, who took the loss.

Japan widened its lead to 4-0 in the sixth when Chicago Cubs outfielder Kosuke Fukudome came home from third on a balk by China relief pitcher Sun Guogiang.

Suzuki, who has struggled in tuneup games leading up to the tournament, returned to the leadoff spot after batting third but couldn't get a hit.

Japan starter Yu Darvish struck out three, walked one and gave up no hits over four scoreless innings to pick up the win.

Boston Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka was given the evening off ahead of Japan's next game.

China is managed by former major league manager Terry Collins, who also has managerial experience in Japan with the Orix Buffaloes.

Given the result of three years ago when China lost to Japan 2-18, yesterday's performance was an improvement.

China's batters managed five hits off Japan's pitchers.

South Korea faces Chinese Taipei today with the winner taking on Japan tomorrow.

Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh, who guided Japan to the championship three years ago, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Oh was unable to manage Japan in this tournament because of health reasons.

Japan was the surprise winner of the inaugural WBC three years ago but failed to win a medal at the Beijing Olympics.

Korea beat Japan in the semifinals before stunning Cuba to win Olympic gold.


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